Ways Attorney Ranking Can be Recovered after Panda 3.3, 3.4, 3.5 and Penguin

By Michael P. Ehline, Esq.

Mike Ehline

Attorney Michael P. Ehline, Esq.

Many of our Google Hangout discussions, in the circleoflegaltrust.com have been about Panda and Penguin. We have had guest speakers come on and give their two cents. Some rely almost solely upon reputable tech blogs as their main sources, others like us in niche markets, also do extensive testing before we make a diagnosis and recovery plan.

Why So Many Lawyers are Freaked Out and What Can They Do?

Panda updates 3.3, 3.4, and 3.5 have caused many law site owners, especially injury attorneys, to stress over a drop in organic site ranking around April of 2012, and most of these sites are still falling. Some sites that were not caught in the first web, are getting nailed with successive updates. The good news is there are ways ranking can be recovered. The good news is also that those sites not nailed, can start fixing the problem, before it becomes a problem. But how did you lose it (SERPS) to begin with?

Below you’ll find information compiled by Los Angeles personal injury lawyer, Michael P. Ehline, esq., on how to diagnose the problems for a drop in rankings and how to recover Google organic attorney ranking.

Diagnosing the Reason for a Drop in Legal Web Site Ranking

Up until updates were made to Panda and Penguin, the tactics for inbound linking that worked rather well, were to pay an Indian link builder, or build a bunch of blogs and link them all back and forth to each other, with a bunch of keyword stuffed articles, with “exact match” anchors like “accident attorney”, for example, linking back to your money site. You could also pay for links in a sidebar on a high PR site.

Other Absurd Link Building Tactics Used By SEO Companies


Footer Link Spam

SEO link builders actually dominated the industry of SEO until now. Some of these SEO companies would place footer links in their clients sites,that linked back to the SEO company’s site, with some exact match anchor. This is what is known as a sitewide footer link, and discussed here. This would help promote the SEO company. Post Panda, both the sending and receiving sites typically are penalized, unless it is a no follow link or a code is added to make it a home page only link. But if it is not relevant (why would a lawyer link to an SEO site?), then kablammo, look out for that penalty. Even if it is a relevant sitewide link, such as a Justia blog network, Google probably thinks it is “unnatural”. (See below)

Sidebar Link Spam

Other companies like Findlaw and Justia would include side bar and blogroll links with exact match anchors to other sites in their paid blog network, for money keywords those sites wanted to rank for, like “motorcycle accident attorney”, for example.

Article Spam

As discussed above, some SEO people would own like a million domains and have them all linking back and forth together and they would post thin content (learn about thin content here), but the sites would have high PR (PageRank), so a lot of lawyers ranked well, even though the sending sites were really just general, non targeted marketing sites, as opposed to a targeted legal site like this Ron Miller Blog.

Indian Backlinks

Many of you may have used Indian link builders. Most of these were guys using ScrapeBox to mass submit your exact match anchors to blog comments and also thousands of Indian owned PHP directories. So you could and can still, pay a few grand to have your exact match anchors blasted to 3000 directories, and send a link spike to your BL profile and assure yourself of a quick death (See also “negative SEO”). Here are some discussions about Indian linkbuilding and how they are probably rattlesnake poison if you have em pointed at your site.

Here is a famous Indian Link Builder discovered by a Google Webmaster Forum Member: http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!search/robin$20gupta/webmasters/yi5JowPpbj0/3V09PHP4q8sJ

Here is the same Indian LinkBuilder Charging to Remove the Toxic Links: http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!search/robin$20gupta/webmasters/88auzolzqfo/I_HnvNsYuecJ

Mind you, Google doesn’t discover MOST of this stuff. People like you and I, and competitors who use the forums and backlink research tools, report this in Google Webmaster Tools. Google then does a manual review, and if it agrees with the stool pigeon, it updates the algo, to look for “footprints” (See here), and then they eventually come up with Penguin, for example, and POOF, your site is gone. In any event, even the Indian content, even if it makes proper use of h1, h2,and h3 tags, is still horrible, grammatically awful, and it is not usually semantically related (learn about LSI here). Bottom line, it is typically keyword stuffed garbage that Panda/Penguin is actively not only devaluing, but punishing (See discussion by Pot Pie Girl here >>> http://www.potpiegirl.com/2012/06/holy-sht-please-dont-link-to-me/ )


I am guilty of this. I posted a lot of articles with the hopes people would pick them up, But later, Google changed their previous position on article posting and determined that sharing duplicate content was apparently not “quality”. Instead, Google seems to want to see a link from a unique article by you, citing that great article and naturally it should be on your own site, under your authorship signal (Learn more.)

The Drop In Rankings

Updates were made around February 19th, March 23rd, and April 24th, which caused many website owners to notice a drop in site ranking. Google’s aim with these updates was to make it harder to achieve a high ranking with the use of inbound links, and they specifically targeted profiles of inbound links.

Countless sites lost top spots in ranking. Google planned to take advantage of this by causing site owners to flock to Google Adwords, which would ultimately mean more money for Google from the increase in bid prices.

Practices commonly used before updates were applied were significantly different than the practices listed below that should now be used post-Panda 3.3.

  • Link velocity – Should steadily increase month after month
  • Exact match anchor text – Should be used no more than 1 to 5%
  • Branded Anchors – Shoot for 50%
  • No-follow anchors – Should be used 10 to 20%
  • Link quantity – The more link quantity, the better if it is from relevant, legal or semantically related websites (ex of semantically related: a link on a hospital website is great for an injury lawyer, but not for a divorce attorney.)
  • Link quality – Its best to use root domains and higher PR pages
  • Naked URLs, universal/junk anchors, and branded anchors – Overall inbound link profile should contain at least 70%
  • Destination content source anchor text matches – Vital
  • LSI anchor text – Overall inbound link profile should contain 20 to 30%
  • Destination URL content source URL content matches – Vital
  • The 70% should also include reverse exact match, whether you want to rank for it or not.  You should also be using semantically related anchor text.  (Ex 1: If you want to rank for “Los Angeles personal injury attorney”, you should have links in your profile like this: “personal injury attorney Los Angeles” get it? [note that this link to the left, links to a child page that is specifically optimized for this local L.A. city]; Ex 2: If you want to rank for “wrongful death”, a great backlink to that child page would be “fatal accident“, get it?)

Numerous SEO companies and webmasters received a warning of ‘unnatural links’ after the update, along with significant ranking decreases that caused a drop in sales and traffic. Still too many of them are holding on to their old black bag of tricks to try and make the sale. This stuff does not work anymore, and can probably hurt your law practice. Bottom line, is that you, as an attorney, need to know this stuff, so you can vet whomever you hire or train to build your brand and profile.

Too Many Exact Match Anchors

One of the biggest changes was with ‘exact match’ anchor ratio. Prior to the update, sites with more exact-match anchors benefited. After the update, it caused major problems. I would say, you need to focus on getting at least 50% branded anchors before you worry about exact match actors. You have to delete, or dilute, or both.

The next step is to acquire a list of backlinks used on your site. Open Site Explorer, A hrefs, and Majestic SEO are some of the top tools currently being used. Take a look at your sitewides, and if they are do follow, find a way to get rid of em asap!

Next, do a search for your exact match. If you have more that 5%, time to start diluting and possibly deleting if they are coming from garbage sites, like mass do follow directories and blog comments. Sites like Findlaw are probably ok, but PHP directories are probably spotted as unnatural.

Recover Google Site Ranking

When you receive a flag on the backlink profile of your site for over-optimization, there are three ways you can fix this problem.

  • You can remove most or all of the inbound links that have anchor text that is over-optimized.
  • You can get permission from the site owner to rewrite the content to include prier LSI and header tags, and replace the exact match with a naked or a branded as well.
  • You use a new campaign for link building that has more focus on LSI anchors, building brand anchors, naked URLs, and universal/junk anchors to dilute your current inbound link profile. In other words, forget about exact match for awhile.

Techniques at Dilution

It can be very difficult to remove inbound links that already exist. Emails can be sent to webmasters, but this attempt frequently provides few successes, and is very tedious and time-consuming. Most people find it easier to simply dilute the link profile that already exists. Some sites are actively blackmailing attorneys with negative SEO, charging a fee to remove the bad links. Until Google stops letting this happen, or gives us a +link disavow tool”, Google will continue to help grow the negative SEO industry.  Here at the circle of Legal Trust, we share content and articles of trusted members who are in compliance with the Google and Bing Quality Guidelines.  We do not buy or sell.  We are looking to help educate consumers and assist other lawyers in finding tips, and help them with cases that involve the same insurance companies, for example.  If you plan on a dilution campaign, make sure you trust who is giving you that vote.  We are all active in Google Plus and are real people with great attorney sites.

Velocity and Its Importance

So velocity is now probably more important than ever. This is because recent links are valued much higher with Google, and this is simply because links that are recent are a timelier confidence vote. This is why it is effective to use new links to dilute the ones that already exist. The whole idea is to build the size of your overall profile for inbound links. This in turn will decrease the ratio of exact-match anchor text.

I invite comments and am still trying to find the article by potpie girl that points out that Matt Cutts verified that Google punishes the sending and receiving site of unnatural looking links. We hope you enjoyed and Semper Fidelis. Mike.

Posts by Michael Ehline

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